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FATHER BILLL SHERGOLD
1919 - 2009
THE 59 CLUB
Founded in 1959 by the Rev. John Oates as a youth club, at the Eton Mission, St. Mary’s Hackney Wick, 2009 is the 50th Anniversary of the club, a registered church charity.
Born in 1919, the late Father Bill Shergold was ordained in 1942 in Poplar, East London. He passed his motorcycle test in 1952 and witnessed the advent of the post World War II baby boom generation and assisted them as they reached and went through their teens.
During this period motorcycle sales increased significantly each year, rapidly reaching the highest ever achieved sales figures in 1959. In this same year, Triumph released their then new, eagerly awaited Bonneville, that was to become an icon of speed and the fast modern, new, motorway network was underway, the first section of the M1 opening in November 1959.
From 1959 motorcycle sales gradually declined largely due to the advent of the Mini, a new car, released in 1959 and which was cheaper than a motorcycle.
Motorcycles were overwhelmingly being bought by teenagers, known at the time as Ton Up Boys (the Ton referring to 100mph) or Coffee Bar Cowboys. They were buying what, at the time, were the fastest vehicles that they could afford. Combined with the then new rock n’ roll music, a teen culture was born. Many today consider this to have been the first of the many subsequent teen cultures.
With few speed limits and little training, there was carnage on the roads. Increasingly both the public and the press called for something to be done about the ‘speed demons’, ‘teenage terrors’ and the alarmingly rising casualty rate amongst the young motorcyclists.
Having become involved with the 59 Club, Father Bill, at the time a 40 years old motorcycle enthusiast, was encouraged by youngsters attending the 59 Club, to visit the then notorious Ace Cafe on London’s North Circular Road and to invite the Ton Up Boys (and girls), who gathered there in large numbers each evening, to attend the 59 Club.
Seeing so many youngsters at the cafe, on several visits, and being aware of their reputation, Father Bill rode past until, in 1962, wearing his clerical collar, he rode into the cafe’s car park on his Triumph motorbike and, to a welcoming reception, handed out leaflets inviting the youngsters, who were largely regarded by society as tearaways, to his church, St. Mary’s Hackney, for a service and blessing.
On 13th May 1962 Father Bill’s church (St. Mary’s) was packed with youngsters and their motorbikes. Subsequent national press exposure not only resulted with him being caricatured as the ‘Ton Up Vicar’, but also with thousands of motorcycle riding teenagers, from all over the country, contacting him and joining the 59 Club, a club that the youngsters felt was, at last, uniquely for them. Their culture, essentially one of speed, now had an identity and, most particularly from the closure of the Ace Cafe in 1969, a home.
The club formed a motorcycle section, but as the number of youngsters joining just kept increasing, quite quickly the motorcycle section simply overtook and became the club.
Finding larger premises, the club moved to St. Mary’s Paddington where Father Bill was joined and assisted for some while by Father Graham Hullett, who was also a motorcyclist.
Subsequently the club moved to still larger premises at St. Augustine’s, Yorkton Street, Hackney, where the club continued to grow and flourish for a great many years, employing as a youth worker, club member Mike Cook.
Father Bill moved Parish, to St. Bartholomew’s, Dover, there assisting in 1969, in the forming of The 69 Motorcycle Club.
Patrons of the 59 Club, whilst under the guidance and stewardship of Father Bill, included Cliff Richard (at the time the UK’s very own Elvis!) and, until her late passing, HRH Princess Margaret.
In this same year, 1969 The Ace Cafe closed and became a tyre-fitting depot. Twenty-Five years later, in 1994 (and annually ever since) a Reunion was held at the former cafe to which an estimated 12,000 people attended.
The 59 Club has attended every Ace reunion and, each year from and including that of 1994, Father Scott Anderson, the current leader of the 59 Club, (or a colleague representing him) has conducted a short service and blessing.
In 2001 the Ace Cafe fully reopened with the 59 Club present and Father Scott conducting a service and blessing. Since reopening the café has also annually hosted an increasingly popular Carol Service with assistance and involvement of Father Scott and the 59 Club, together with Father Dennis McSwinney, Father Jack Harris, and when able, Reverend John Root and Pastor Paul Sinclair together with members of organisations ranging from the CMA (Christian Motorcyclists Assoc) to the Salvation Army. Twice a year the cafe hosts days dedicated to, and in conjunction with, the 59 Club.
The current leader of the 59 Club, Father Scott Anderson, has since Summer of 2008 been installed at St Mary The Virgin, Lewisham.